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Warner Home Video presents
Forbidden Planet HD-DVD (1956)

"Welcome to Altair IV, gentlemen. I am to transport you to the residence. If you do not speak English, I am at your disposal with 187 other languages along with their various dialects and sub-tongues."
- Robby the Robot (voiced by Marvin Miller)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: November 13, 2006

Stars: Walter Pidgeon, Anne Francis, Leslie Nielsen
Other Stars: Warren Stevens, Jack Kelly, Richard Anderson, Earl Holliman, George Wallace, James Drury
Director: Fred McLeod Wilcox

MPAA Rating: G for (nothing objectionable)
Run Time: 01h:38m:47s
Release Date: November 14, 2006
UPC: 012569796348
Genre: sci-fi

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
A- B+A-B+ A-

DVD Review

Forbidden Planet is fondly remembered as one of the best and most seminal of the many science fiction movies of the 1950s. Famous for its roots in Shakespeare's Tempest, it is also imaginative and interested in character and psychology as well as technology and action. In this new HD DVD rendition, it also looks better than ever to boot.

A spaceship commanded by J.J. Adams (a young and totally serious Leslie Nielsen) is sent to the planet Altair IV in order to check whether the ship Bellerophon, which crashed there some years earlier, has any survivors. There are only two: philologist Edward Morbius (Walter Pidgeon) and his daughter Altaira (a very young Anne Francis), kept company only by their amazing robot Robby (voiced by Marvin Miller). Morbius seems uninterested in rescue, and in fact warns Adams and his crew away. But they have a responsibility to carry out, and land they do. Once there, they learn that the rest of the survivors of the Bellerophon were mysteriously torn limb from limb by an invisible monster that left Morbius and his family alone for unknown reasons. Morbius reluctantly divulges some secrets of the planet, including some of the technology of the long-dead ancient Krell civilization. But before long, the invisible monster returns with a vengeance and the rescue crew starts to be killed themselves.

The futuristic production design is an odd combination of the crude and the marvelous. Foremost among these is the justly-lauded design of Robby, with rotating gyroscopes and adding machine noises giving him a marvelous charm, helped along by Miller's voice talents. The depiction of Morbius' home is an intriguing accumulation of 1950s notions of what would be futuristic, with organic images incongruously made of metals. The buried Krell civilization is well-realized, hinting at much more of substance below the visible surface. The central monster is suggested only indirectly, with massive footprints and a reflection of its features in laser light (accomplished by animation from one of Disney's top technicians). At the same time, the backgrounds of the planet are obviously painted canvas, and the cheapness of the flying saucer that Adams and his crew arrive on must have been laughable even in the 1950s.

What makes the film work and still be highly enjoyable today is the way that it plays with stereotypes and lends humanity to what would have been cardboard characters in other pictures of the period. While the wolf of the crew predictably tries to take advantage of Altaira's complete innocence, for instance, he is both condemned by the others but there's more than a little visible desire among them to do the same. Nielsen is particularly fine as the skipper, testy at the shortcomings of his crew and irritated at Morbius' cryptic behavior. Pidgeon makes the most of his part, at once wracked with guilt over the doom of his rescuers as well as joyful that it increases the likelihood that he'll be left alone. There's a strain of 1950s anti-intellectualism here too, with Morbius being portrayed as less than human thanks to having artificially increased his intelligence through the Krell technology. Proud of his IQ and accomplishments, he's singularly unwise in his dealings with Adams and his crew, as well as his daughter.

Although the theremin had been developed in the 1920s, it received its first widespread recognition for its use in the score of Forbidden Planet, and as a result it became indelibly associated with science fiction. It's pervasive but utterly well-suited to the material. There's also plenty of use of other electronic sounds, making the aural experience of the film unique in its time period. The comic relief actually manages to be funny, and the character relationships work quite well. As a result, even after fifty years this remains a hugely entertaining movie that holds up in its earnestness despite some occasional technical clumsiness.

Rating for Style: A-
Rating for Substance: B+


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio2.40:1 - Widescreen
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The Cinemascope image looks ravashing in HD, with preternaturally eye-popping color throughout. The picture is extremely crisp and attractive, with no sign of blocking. Edge enhancement is noticeable only during a brief segment in the Krell underworld. Textures are excellent, and black levels are deep and rich. Robby's various shades of silver, grey and black are rendered impeccably, with subtlety and clarity. There is very little to complain about here, other than HD makes Francis' swimsuit during her supposedly nude swim even more obvious.

Image Transfer Grade: A-


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoFrench, Spanishyes
Dolby Digital

Audio Transfer Review: A 5.1 remix of the original audio is the only English track. The dialogue is pretty well center-bound, but the swirling theremin moves throughout the surrounds, making for a very effective sonic experience. Hiss and noise are only nominal. Range is quite decent, and there's no sign of shrillness. There's little to complain about here either.

Audio Transfer Grade: B+


Disc Extras

Animated menu
Scene Access with 25 cues and remote access
Subtitles/Captions in English, French, Spanish with remote access
1 Original Trailer(s)
6 Other Trailer(s) featuring The Thing from Another World, The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms, Them!, The Black Scorpion, The Invisible Boy, The Time Machine
8 Deleted Scenes
2 Documentaries
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: Elite
Picture Disc
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. The Invisible Boy
  2. The Thin Man episode
Extras Review: Robby the Robot was so popular that he spawned a star vehicle of his own unrelated to Forbidden Planet. The Invisible Boy (1957), a wish-fulfillment fantasy crossed with paranoid terror, is an amazing little picture of its own. Young Timmy (Richard Eyer) is given lessons in chess by his father's supercomputer, but the computer also instills information about how to get Robby operational. It's part of a scheme of the supercomputer to take over the world and eliminate organic life. I kept expecting it to resolve in the standard "it's all a dream" finale, but shockingly, it plays the story completely straight. Full of imagination, it includes concepts such as sleep learning, mind-controlling implants and rockets to the moon in its potpourri of sci-fi oddness.

Robby makes another appearance in the Feburary 28, 1958 episode of the television program The Thin Man starring Peter Lawford and Phyllis Kirk as Nick and Nora Charles. The episode Robot Client features Robby prominently. When Robby comes under suspicion of murder and his inventor (Barry Atwater) of criminal negligence, it's up to the detective couple to try to clear them of guilt.

Several extras are devoted primarily to the feature. Amazing! is an excellent 26m:33s appreciation of the film and its making, with interviews with the surviving cast and crew, and it includes production drawings and storyboards, behind the scenes footage and plenty of information about the creation of the monster and the animation behind it. The supporting featurette on Robby (13m:44s) gives plenty of background on his development and design, with discussion from codesigner Robert Kinoshita, whose background in washing machine design ended up influencing the robot's look. Two brief segments hosted by Pidgeon from MGM's television series MGM Parade in 1955 gave audiences their first look at the movie and the robot. They are fascinating promotional materials that are in surprisingly nice condition. A set of deleted scenes and alternate takes is accompanied by about nine minutes of test footage from the MGM archives that try out various effects, as well as including effects-less action shots. An hour-long TCM documentary on 1950s science fiction rounds out the extras, together with a half dozen trailers for other sci-fi classics as well as a lovely trailer for the feature.

Extras Grade: A-


Final Comments

Fifty years hasn't dulled the fun of this movie, and in HD it looks incredible. Toss in a huge assortment of extras, and this is a winner of a package. True fans will want to seek out the collector's edition complete with a Robby figure.


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